The group marked another triumph on Monday, when TakeAction organizer Dai Thao was elected to St. Paul’s City Council, becoming the city’s first Hmong council member.
Mr. Thao defeated Noel Nix, a city hall insider and the candidate in the race endorsed by both the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. And therein rests the real story.
Oceans of ink has been spilled covering the internal Republican discussions among Tea Partiers, libertarians, social conservatives and more establishment types.
Hardly a word has been written in the legacy media or spoken by the state’s designated political scientists about the biggest political story of the year: the stealth takeover of city Democrat politics by TakeAction’s progressive faction.
This takeover appears to have been abetted by the Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) system, in place in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Most of the debate surrounding RCV centers on its most visible feature, the ranking of candidates 1-2-3 by voters on the general election ballot. More important to the ultimate outcome may be RCV’s elimination of the party primary.
Without a party primary to winnow the field, some city races have become free-for-alls with large fields of candidates of all political persuasions competing directly against one another. There were 35 candidates on the ballot in the Minneapolis mayor’s race and in Mr. Thao’s St. Paul City Council race, there were seven candidates.
Five of those seven candidates were Democrats. In a Democrat party primary, the winner would need to appeal across the various factions among the Democrats: hardcore progressives, pro-business moderates, party insiders, union members, etc. In Mr. Thao’s race, there was no Democrat party endorsement or party primary.
In a wide-open race, the most determined and better-organized faction wins. In the case of Minneapolis and St. Paul city races, more often than not in 2013, that faction was TakeAction. In the 35-candidate Minneapolis mayor’s race, the runner-up candidate, Mark Andrew, outraised all other candidates by a wide margin. By the end of October, Mr. Andrew and his supporting groups had raised a total of $556,500, more than $210,000 above the $346,000 raised by eventual winner Betsy Hodges and her supporters.
Mr. Andrew’s money advantage was no match for TakeAction’s ground game. Observers were surprised by Hodges’ margin of victory. As per usual, they draw the wrong conclusion. The Star Tribune’s Lori Sturdevant writes,
Surprised by Minneapolis Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges’ 17.5-percent margin of ranked-choice victory over second-place finisher Mark Andrew last Tuesday? You weren’t alone. As astute an observer of city politics as Mayor R.T. Rybak said Monday that he had not expected an outcome so decisive in the 35-candidate race to succeed him.
Sturdevant quotes outgoing-Mayor Rybak,
The result is that Hodges has “an absolute total mandate to continue her philosophy of very progressive social issues and very tough fiscal conservatism,” the retiring DFLer said at a Humphrey School of Public Affairs forum.
As TakeAction’s longest sustaining member, Mayor-elect Hodges certainly qualifies as very progressive on social issues. However, she fits no generally-accepted definition of a tough fiscal conservative. I believe those who see a fiscal conservative in Ms. Hodges see what they want to see. You cannot pursue economic and social “justice” and still have a growing economy and a reasonable public-sector budget.
For example, much has been made of Hodges’ opposition to public funding for the new Vikings football stadium, a position she shares with Tea Party-types on the other end of the political spectrum. However, her opposition does not arise out of concern for the taxpayer; rather, it reflects an instinctual hostility to private enterprise.
Many observers attribute Hodges’ victory and the turnover of most of the City Council to a generational shift in city politics. There is certainly that element at play.
From my observation, though, many older Democrats are such because of tradition and familial ties. Many younger politicians are progressive out of conviction. So a generational shift also means an ideological shift.
I do see a fundamental shift taking place, one moving the party from the more moderate Democrat party insiders and pro-business types to the more radical progressive TakeAction faction. As CBS reporter Esme Murphy points out,
Hodges beat back a traditional DFL candidate in Mark Andrew who was endorsed by almost all local labor unions. Hodges, on the other hand, has clashed with union heads.
Again, Hodges’ opposition to certain public employee unions is read as concern for the taxpayer. In fact, it is evidence of the internal battle among the city’s Democrats. Notable among the local unions not endorsing Andrew was TakeAction memberSEIU.
What kind of mayor will Hodges be? A clue can be found in her early and enthusiastic support of a government takeover of local electric and natural gas utilities. This public ownership of the means of production reflects the TakeAction agenda, but does meet the definition of a pro-business, fiscal-conservative Democrat.
In the Minneapolis City Council elections, TakeAction endorsed in five races, supporting four incumbents. The only challenger TakeAction supported, Ward 3’s Jacob Frey, defeated incumbent Council Member Diane Hofstede. Although Hofstede was a two-term incumbent, Frey received the Democrat party endorsement last spring. It’s worth noting that Hofstede was a supporter of the Vikings’ stadium deal. Of Frey’s election, political scientist and Hamline Professor David Schultz had this to say,
I think Mr. Frey is going to bring some really interesting, progressive politics to the council.
Hofstede was among three incumbents defeated this year, leaving seven of the 13 incoming Minneapolis City Council members as newcomers. We will watch closely to see what kind of city the newcomers bring in with them.
In the next year we will also see how this new, more progressive politics plays in the core cities, as well as within the swing suburban areas critical to control of the state House of Representatives. The outcome of issues such as the minimum wage debate will show whether the Democrats’ pro-business crowd or the more progressive faction holds greater sway at the state level.
Cross-posted and comments welcome at Bill Glahn.